April 3rd, 2012
By Jennifer Olin, BSN, RN
If graduating from nursing school is just around the corner that means the next hurdle you have to clear is passing your national licensing exam or NCLEX. Preparation to take the NCLEX began the day you started nursing school classes and everything you have learned along the way, in the classroom and in clinicals, will come into play when you sit down in front of the computer and the clock starts.
When you take the licensing exam is up to you and the rules of your state. Some states required a waiting period between graduation and testing, others, like Texas will let you take your NCLEX the day after graduation if you have all your paperwork in order. Once you receive your Authorization to Test (ATT) you can pick your date.
Lots of people want to know how far out they should start studying or taking practice tests for their licensure exam. I think a couple of weeks are plenty. First of all, you need to get school and finals out of the way. Second, don’t wait too long. You are still in school mode, test-taking mode—don’t let those skills slip away by waiting. The longer you procrastinate, the more you will have to refresh and it lowers your chance of passing the first time.
Should you study on your own or take an outside prep course? I think you are the best judge of what’s most effective for you. With that said, if your nursing school has been prepping you for the licensing exam since the day you started classes you should have a pretty good grasp of the material and at least have developed a few good study habits. With an investment in a couple of good study guides including practice questions and some time I think anyone can prepare enough to pass the test.
The Weeks Before the Test
So here are some other tips for the weeks leading up to taking your NCLEX:
While taking and passing the licensing exam is the next major hurdle, relaxing and having a little fun is important too. You have finished nursing school, a major achievement. Take a little time to care for yourself. Having a positive attitude and a rested mind and body counts towards your success too.
The Day Before the Test
On the day before the exam try to take it easy. If you feel compelled to study do a short overall review or one practice test and call it a day. Watch what you eat, get a little exercise, hydrate, and try to get a full night’s sleep. Make sure you know how to get to the testing center; maybe even drive it once to be sure you know where it is. Plan what you will wear, make it comfortable and I recommend layers. You have no idea what the temperature will be in the testing center, best to be prepared. Make sure your alarm clock is set appropriately.
It’s the day you’ve been preparing for since you decided you wanted to be a nurse. It’s a big deal but it’s manageable. Here are a few more tips.
Some other handy tips include don’t delegate any duties that are in the nursing process, this is a nursing test. If you flat out don’t know, eliminate what you can, pick an answer and move on. Don’t waste time on questions you can’t answer. The computer will compensate, ask you a slightly easier question in the same vein later, and get you back to where you need to be.
There is no doubt that the NCLEX is important. While we all want to pass it the first time and not think about it again, not passing isn’t the end of the world. In most cases you can take it again in 45 days and you usually have up to four years to pass it. Again, I think you should take it as soon as possible but if your life is in some kind of upheaval or transition maybe it will suit you better to wait until things settle down before jumping back into the fray. Trust your own self-judgment. It’s just a test. By the end of nursing school you’ve taken dozens and passed if you got this far. You will pass this one too.